Perspective grab bag

At the same time and during the past several weeks, I’ve accumulated a long list of interesting perspectives on a variety of subjects. Here is but a small sample:

  • Is PowerPoint a help or a hindrance? Who does it really serve? In The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, Edward Tufte–perhaps best known for his books about how to convey numerical information graphically without distorting meaning–suggests that the emphasis in too many PowerPoint presentations is on helping the presenter overcome his public speaking deficiencies–not on increasing audience comprehension. According to Tufte, the cognitive style of the typical PowerPoint presentation suffers from a foreshortening of evidence and thought, low spatial resolution, a deeply hierarchical single-path structure as the model for organizing every type of content, breaking up narrative and data into slides and minimal fragments, rapid temporal sequencing of thin information than focused spatial analysis, conspicuous decoration and Phluff, a preoccupation with format not content. But is this the fault of the presenter or of the presentation tool? While you can probably point to both, most users tend to choose the path of least resistance, and arguably PowerPoint encourages such mistakes. What does a presentation tool focused on increased audience comprehension and effective communication look like? How would the typical presentation experience change? What new conversations would ensue? What new ideas would be formed and acted upon? When can we get started? Update on 7/12/2004: Demos, demos, demos, not slides, slides, slides – if you must have a crutch as a speaker, demos can be more effective than slides. Update on 7/13/2004: How could I forget all of Cliff Atkinson’s articles on PowerPoint?!
  • Capitalizing on ideas versus creating ideas – I find that open source projects, especially with the advent of Creative Commons, strike a reasonable balance between visionaries and executionists. Both should be given their due credit and reward. Without original thinking where would any of us be? Without the ability to improve upon previous accomplishments so much of life would be wasted in the quagmire of the past. However, if we’re not willing to attribute the present to the past when it applies then we have no business building on the work and ideas of others–and others are less likely in the end to take our work and ideas to the next level, assuming they have a life beyond their original vision.
  • Giving It Away (Business 2.0, May 2004) talks in more detail about Creative Commons. Like copyright, Creative Commons is a legal solution not a technical one. It’s up to the market to create encryption, fear and/or goodwill to enforce it. Creative Common’s author, Lawrence Lessig, recently published the entire text of this book Free Culture online in PDF form as a free download. This action backs up the belief that: Free distribution generates exposure, and that builds commercial demand, which is where the money is. It also speaks clearly to increasing the raw material available for creative reinvention.
  • Compensation is a trailing indicator of success.
  • Innovate, or Take a Walk and its by-line If you’re not bringing new ideas to the table, you’re signing your own pink slip serves as a wake up call to anyone employed. In his 4/19/2004 InfoWorld piece, Tom Yager continues to say, Productivity and precision can be outsourced or extracted from the less experienced. Innovation, the ability to conjure genuinely new ideas without the constraints of convention or even practicality, is what will determine whether you climb along with the recovery or slide into the morass of the replaceable…If you don’t create, dream, and invent, you are a candidate for outsourcing and automation. Great ideas, even if the’re just pipe dreams that make other people feel comfortable expressing their own, are now among the most valuable assets on the American job market. They can’t be transplanted.
  • Code Complete author Steve McConnell insists that personal discipline, not technology, is still the key to building good software. He argues that especially with faster hardware, software optimization should be at the design level (e.g. code clarity and understandability), not at the code level. As a reader of the first edition, I’m looking forward to reading the brand-new second edition of Code Complete in the coming weeks.
  • Everyone wants to write a framework, but no one wants to use one. Change this developer disposition by thinking about what the customer wants (e.g. think twice about stifling any exception, document any exception thrown by the framework, share your intent along with the facts about your API–a vector is more valuable than a point by stating direction, etc.).
  • I agree with eWeek’s Steve Gillmor that RSS is creating a shift away from the web request model to user-controlled aggregation. Granting control yields potentially rich metadata that can be mined by the service provider to produce compelling reasons for the user to stay put (i.e. differentiating services). Control may be a matter of perception–is it ever not?–however, if the user doesn’t feel in control, I doubt your service or site will see many requests or use.
  • The genius of business intelligence (BI) tools according to Mark Hall: [is] not that they give you assurances about what you know, but that they inspire even more questions and more doubt. BI will mean more people viewing more data in more detail (i.e. information democracy). A text miner is an example of a BI tool.